Until last year, I rarely cried.
Now I cry with a frequency that startles me discovering its relief not quite sure it is the “manly” thing to do.
As a child, I had a firm grip. When Meyer, whom I always referred to by the Yiddish word Zeyda, meaning grandfather, died, I was five, I remember strongly the overwhelming sense of grief I felt appalled that the tears would not stop falling.
When Bubbie, the Yiddish word for grandmother died 12 years later….[well that is another story, perhaps for another time.]
In retrospect, I know little about either of them except that as the child of a mother who divorced my father when I was three and whose mother in turn divorced my paternal grandfather early in their marriage, Zeyda and Bubbie represented the iconic stable family I wish I had. Throughout my childhood and adolescence the image they projected made me feel safe and secure.
Meyer and Jenny were born in Odessa, then Russia; after the Cold War, now the Ukraine. The first photograph on Wikipedia’s Odessa entry shows the famous Potemkin staircase depicted in Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant silent film about the 1905 Revolution in the following grisly scene.
At about this time, my grandparents, my father, and his sister fled Odessa escaping the horrors of pogroms taking place simultaneously throughout Russia. My cousin described the details to me as a child during frequent visits my father Isadore had arranged. Isadore wanted me to know just how narrowly our family had escaped slaughter by the state-sponsored Cossacks who killed Jews in the belief that the Jewish people had killed Jesus.
My grandparents were both orphans. Their parents had been killed by an earlier wave of pogroms. Meyer, Jenny, my father, and my Aunt Lil fled to avoid the next wave of Jews being killed–bodies, my cousin described as being stacked up and loaded onto multiple railroad cars.
The following is an account from The New York Times of a 1903 pogrom:
“There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Orthodox Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, ‘Kill the Jews’ was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep….The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babies were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.”
Jewish victims of a 1905 pogrom
Note: To be continued.